Black Hat Link Building Techniques You Can Learn from Google
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The author's views are entirely his or her own, and don't necessarily represent the views of Ahrefs.

While Google manipulation by webmasters is considered as “black hat” or downright spam in many cases, there is rarely scrutiny of Google’s own techniques to get attention, publicity and links. Here are some insightful black hat examples of how Google does it.

What does white hat/black hat mean?

What is white hat link building? In its modern version link building is about motivating webmasters, bloggers, editors and publishers to add a link back to your site.

Some people also call it “earning links”. In old school SEO there was a lot of manual link building going on as in inserting your links on third party sites where possible. Black hat link building meant that the owners of the websites you insert the links in either don’t know or don’t approve of you adding the links there.

Common examples of old school black hat link building were automated guest book and forum entries, blog comments and abuse of other UGC (User Generated Content) options.

What does black hat link building mean today? Today it’s about tricking webmasters into linking to you by various means. For example you could hide a link to an unrelated third party site in a widget people put on their site without realizing they are adding a link too.

Why disclose questionable Google methodology?

I have made black hat techniques articles in the past even though I don’t use these tactics myself. Writing about black hat is a good white hat means to get people to link to you.

This time I’m not only trying to create link bait I also have a special twist with this post. I will show you examples of how Google itself uses black hat techniques to get attention, publicity and links. You might argue that Google being the search engine itself and one of the most well known brands worldwide doesn’t need to use questionable tactics. Then I ask you: why do they use them then? As one of the few remaining SEOs who don’t have a stake in Google success I watch the search giant more closely than others. Thus I can reveal the dirty tricks Google uses.

Full disclosure: I don’t own Google shares. I’m not a Google certified Adwords peddler. I don’t sell Google products at all. I ban Google search on my blog and I don’t cuddle with Matt Cutts on search conferences.

Hidden widget links

Google+ widgets are a good example of hidden widget links. While it’s clear that adding unrelated links to third parties is problematic, Google has recently been even more aggressive penalizing widget links. By now any widget containing a link back to your site is meant to use the nofollow attribute. Does Google+ use nofollow on their own widget links? Of course not!
Article_Black-Hat-Link-Building_hidden-widget-linksThis is my own personal Google+ widget Google wants me to embed on my site. I considered it but then decided no to use it. Why? It forces me to link back to Google (my name is a link) without allowing me to either remove the link or to add the nofollow attribute to it. That’s a part of code that would be showing on my site:

<a href=”https://plus.google.com/113621097289093997513?prsrc=5″ target=”_blank”>Tadeusz Szewczyk (Tad Chef)</a>

See the code below,  can you spot the link above that Google inserts into the site?

<!– Place this tag where you want the widget to render. –>

<div data-href=”//plus.google.com/113621097289093997513″ data-rel=”author”></div>

<!– Place this tag after the last widget tag. –>

<script type=”text/javascript”>

(function() {

var po = document.createElement(‘script’); po.type = ‘text/javascript’; po.async = true;

po.src = ‘https://apis.google.com/js/plusone.js’;

var s = document.getElementsByTagName(‘script’)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(po, s);

})();

</script>

The link is completely hidden. There is no way to customize or remove it. As a white hat SEO, I want to stay ethical and thus I’m unable to add such an unnatural link to Google.

Bait and switch

A bait and switch is promising someone something and then offering something else much less valuable or nothing instead. Google has pushed  many bloggers and journalists to link back to them from each and every post of theirs on all sites they write for. How did they do it? With so called Google authorship.

Google needs Google authorship to identify each and every person on the Internet and to profile them. Are they guest posting a lot? Are they linking back to their own sites etc.? It’s also perfect to get links for Google. What do the authors get in return?

Authors can show a little picture of their avatar in the Google search results along the articles they have written. What’s the use of that you might ask? Well, I’m not sure.

I haven’t seen any proper data showing me the ROI of that tiny pic. Some articles with anecdotal evidence argue that more people click through the search results with the images. Other articles say the exact opposite and cite even more drawbacks.
Article_Black-Hat-Link-Building_authosrhip-serpsLet’s be generous and assume there are some positive impacts on the CTR when a few images are showing. What happens once 10 out of 10 results show an avatar? Will all 10 get a higher CTR? I doubt that.

In any case there is no measurable advantage by linking out to Google that way but you do it anyway, don’t you? I don’t. I don’t want Google to outrank me for my own name!

Hype creation

Do you remember Google Wave? It seems like a decade ago that Google Wave was the biggest hype on the Web. It was just a few years ago. It was late 2009, wasn’t it? Anyway, what is a hype anyway? It’s similar to a bait and switch. The value promised is way overblown and the promise is not only directly given by the perpetrator. To create a hype, you have to manipulate the public so that it repeats your message without knowing the outcome.

I remember how I finally tried Google Wave back then and how hard it was to use.

I spent an hour testing it to make it work . I was getting angrier all the time until I finally gave up , got tired to the point I promised to never come back. Google Wave has been dropped just a few months later. You could argue that they didn’t know it would be such a failure but they could have at least tried to live up to their own hype. They could tried to fix that tool, to simplify. Instead they abandoned it as quickly as no other service before it seems. At least they have garnered huge attention and myriads of links.

The Google Buzz fiasco was similar. Now Google+ gets hyped as one of the biggest social networks on the Web but strangely enough it’s only responsible for 0.04% of social media traffic. How come? Nonetheless these publicity stunts and often even lies are always great to generate incoming links to Google.

Buying competitor sites

You probably noticed that Google is buying many startups and among them often companies offering competing products. Many of these never see the light of day again. Some survive for a while under the Google regime just to get neglected and finally killed altogether like Aardvark. The lucky ones like Postrank get their teams and features added to some extent to existing Google products.
What happens with the link equity these domains have? They simply get redirected to Google. Just type in Postrank.com

So how exactly can you learn from Google? Do what they do. Buy sites from the competition and use their links. Tell the world how you made a million in a week. Promise people some awesome features for free and then deliver them mediocre ones for money. Promote your Google widgets with hidden links to your Google+ pages, after all Google won’t penalize you for that!

Photo credit:  by DoodleDeMoon/ Flickr Image

Tad Chef

Tad Chef writes for SEO blogs from all over the world including his own one called SEO 2.0. He helps people with blogs, social media and search, both in German and English. You can follow Tad on Twitter @onreact_com to get his latest insights daily.

Also in: Industry's Insights, Link Building.

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  • Usman Raza

    well that was very interesting insight you have provided TAD, How Google is using back links techniques while offering some of its products & services free. i think its fine if Google is helping for free to billions of people everyday by giving them information they typed in or looking for, they guys deserve to get links as well as profit! does not matter white or black way! the most important is its helps us to stay updated with new world of digital media ! Many of us love Google just because of this? keep up the Good work Google! i love you !

    • onreact

      So you mean other better search engines are paid or something? Do you even know that there are other search engines? BTW. these search engines show more than ads above the fold.

      • Usman Raza

        Hi there,
        i did not mean other search engines are not good or paid but if they are good why more than 80 percent searches done on Google? and yes i know many other search engines like yahoo, Bing,Ask, etc…are these search engines you are talking about? they are good but i did not find even ads relevant to my queries? Thanks! thats my point of view please do not take it personal!

        • Daniel Delos

          Justifying the means by the ends is a slippery slope. You won’t be able to draw a line between right and wrong with this logic.

          Should any company be able to break the rules that they consider or even have defined as fair and honest, just because they are also providing some quality services?

  • http://roadturn.com/ Don Sturgill

    Is that a white sombrero, Tad? Great photo and an excellent title. You chose the right website to publish on, too. Greg is a wild man. What you miss is that Google, of course, can be trusted to create links only for the good of mankind … not so with the rest of us greedy marketing-focused kumquats. :)

  • http://www.writersmind.eu/ Luana Spinetti

    [Starts OT] Oh my, what’s up with all the Disqus comments around the most popular blogs? I can rarely see a good ol’ WP commenting system anymore. *sigh*[Ends OT]

    Well, Tad – you’re spot on, as usual. ;)

    However, I can’t see a way for widget links to be black hat. Like many free products, they’re just “linkware” and that’s not a bad thing, unless – as you point out – they’re so hidden that the end user doesn’t even know where they popped up. I’m okay with having links in widgets, but I want to know that there ARE some and what kinds of links they are, too (I won’t use a plugin if it links out to a p*rn site, for example).

    If the plugin or widget creator asks for a link back, I’ll give them one (or activate the option in the plugin settings), and I will NOT add a nofollow. They deserve a real link for their work, not a Google link. ;)

  • http://www.vacations-abroad.com/ Vacations-Abroad.com

    I must say I love the digg at Google…

  • financevision financevision

    Love Paris